Designful

Wellbeing

Shining a Light on Circadian Rhythms
Susann Schuster

Light is essential to life, and exposure to the right kind of light at the right time of day is crucial to our health and wellbeing—even more so during these home-bound COVID times. Humans need a certain amount of daily light to function optimally, so it’s no surprise that customizable human-centric lighting solutions—particularly those targeted at our circadian rhythms (our internal daily body clocks)—are increasingly popular in design circles.

Studies show that our circadian rhythms are extremely important to our physical and mental health. This “clock,” which is driven primarily by light, runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and controls almost every biological system in the body, including the sleep-wake cycle, mood patterns, metabolism, and immune system.

Pixabay
Pixabay

The human body is stimulated by the movement of the sun and produces hormones such as cortisol and melatonin that play an important role in maintaining wellness while naturally regulating the sleep-wake cycle. “Today, not only do we not spend enough time outside, but we have artificial light continually confusing our body clock,” says Kate Bridle, Founder and Head Sleep Physiologist at Hong Kong-based Sleep HQ. “Sleep is the foundation of both our physical and mental health and wellbeing, so prolonged periods of living or working indoors will start to take its toll on our sleeping patterns.”

Pixabay
Pixabay

Kohler bathroom suite
Kohler bathroom suite

With increased use of LED-lit digital devices and an always-on work culture, it’s no wonder our circadian rhythms are being negatively impacted. Using dynamic interior lighting systems to create a balance between natural and artificial light can go a long way towards creating spaces that not only reset our sleep-wake cycles, but also target our mental health, helping to mitigate issues like anxiety, depression, and adrenal fatigue.

For Nita Kembhavi, Principal of Kembhavi Architecture Foundation, a holistic design approach is key. “Orienting an interior space so openings and glazing draw in maximum daylight can naturally balance circadian rhythms,” Kembhavi says, noting that it’s extremely important to analyze climatic data like sun path and wind direction to allow optimum natural light exposure. “In areas where it’s not possible to draw in natural light, artificial light can support circadian rhythms through the use of appropriate LED blue light technology, smartly backed up with intelligent automation that mimics sunlight and moonlight throughout the day,” she explains.  

When specifying interior lighting schemes, it’s important to utilize systems that mimic daylight, so they energize us in waking hours and to relax us at night. “Cooler light makes us feel more alert, while warmer light makes us more relaxed,” says Erin Hoover, Kohler Co.’s Director of Design for Luxury Space.

While complete circadian solutions are still new to the market, dynamic lighting tailored to individual spaces is a feasible solution. As Hoover explains, “This allows the occupants to create different ‘scenes’ according to function and time of day—dimming lights to create ambience in the evening, brightening the light for focused tasks and work.”

In the bathroom, lighting that is wall-mounted at eye level or slightly above is a feel-good, practical choice. Inspiration can be found in Kohler Co.’s recent bathroom lighting collections*, including the elegant modernist Kraga™ and vintage Hollywood-style Tresdoux™ collections. For the kitchen, Hoover recommends a variety of lighting sources, such as undercabinet lighting that illuminates the countertop worksurface combined with ceiling-mounted decorative lighting and recessed architectural lighting, to allow varying levels of illumination in different areas. 

Kohler Kraga™ lighting
Kohler Tresdoux™ lighting collection

Finding the optimal mix of light is highly personal and is affected by one’s daily routine, as well as factors such as age, chronotype, sleeping habits, and visual capacity. Jena Wilson, Project Director at HBA/Hirsch Bedner Associates, prefers a dimmable system that incorporates multiple lighting types to create an interior lighting system that offers a sense of being connected to the natural environment. “The use of overhead lighting, through a series of down lights and cove lights, creates an even spread of light that can simulate daylight,” she explains. “Softer light at night will entice the brain to switch into night mode, preparing the body for rest.”

Kohler Tresdoux™ lighting collection
Kohler Tresdoux™ lighting collection

Tunable lighting that can be adjusted from warm to cool or vice versa also allows users to personalize their environment according to needs. “Smart bulbs that gradually add light to a room are a great way to start the day,” says Wilson. “A natural progression of light mimics the rising sun and signals our bodies to wake up. This gives us a chance to use blackout drapery and still feel the effects of sunrise in an artificial way, without having to rise at dawn.”

Full-cover circadian solutions are still in development, but selecting different bulbs is a simple and effective interim solution; current light bulb technology that supports the circadian rhythm is vast and offers aesthetic flexibility. “I tend to focus more on the technology of the bulb itself rather than on an appliance,” Wilson says. “There are many amazing products on the market, but a bulb’s flexibility makes it my go-to solution.”

Kohler lighting
Kohler lighting

*Currently only available in North America.